An increasingly confrontational President Bush on Friday vetoed a bill authorizing hundreds of popular water projects, like repairing hurricane damage, restoring wetlands and preventing flooding in communities across the nation, even though lawmakers can count enough votes to override him.
The $23 billion Water Resources Development Act was passed in the House by a vote of 381-40, and in the Senate by 81-12 - much more than the two-thirds of each house necessary to override a presidential veto for the bill to become law.
With such broad support making a congressional override almost a certainty, it would mark the first veto defeat for Mr. Bush.
The last time such legislation was authorized was the year 2000; its reauthorization is now five years overdue.
"Every day brings new evidence that President Bush is out of touch with the American people and their priorities," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "More than two years after failing to respond to the devastation and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, he is refusing to fund important projects guided by the Army Corps of Engineers that are essential to protecting the people of the Gulf Coast region."
"When we override this irresponsible veto, perhaps the President will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats," Reid said.
Mr. Bush objected to the $9 billion in projects added during negotiations between the House and Senate. He hoped that his action, even though it is sure not to hold, would cast him as a friend to conservatives who demand a tighter rein on federal spending.
But Mr. Bush never vetoed spending bills when the Republicans controlled Congress, despite similar budgetary increases then. Attempting to demonstrate fiscal toughness now, in the seventh year of his presidency, carried the risk being criticized for doing too little, too late, or as waging a transparently partisan attack against the Democrats who now run Capitol Hill.
It was the first time Mr. Bush went into a veto knowing it was a futile effort. After criticizing Democrats almost daily for wasting time by passing legislation they knew he would not accept, this turns the tables somewhat on him, vetoing a bill he knows will likely become law anyway.
The White House said President Bush vetoed the water projects bill because "it is fiscally irresponsible," according to press secretary Dana Perino. CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer said Perino responded that the measure "is filled with hundreds of projects that lack any sense of merit."
Perino says the president supports a bill that "prioritizes spending on projects with the greatest economic and environmental return to the nation.
The bill only authorizes the projects; the actual funding must be approved separately.
Congressional reaction was categorically angry. Democrats described the president's veto as "ill-advised," "reckless" and "irresponsible."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Mr. Bush's veto "breaks his commitment to the people of Louisiana to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina; breaks his commitment to America's communities to make them economically strong and protect them from flooding; breaks his commitment to make America's infrastructure a priority; and breaks his commitment to restore our environment, including the Everglades."
"We cannot let this ill-conceived veto stand," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., noting that the bill's $2 billion for restoring the Everglades was long-overdue.
Yet one approving voice in Congress comes from an unusual source: Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. "The President's veto of the WRDA bill is a welcome opportunity for Congress to modify the flawed, bloated bill," he said. "Instead of trying to override the veto, Congress should take this opportunity to fix the bill. We must make sure that Americans' tax dollars are spent on the most important priorities, not just on members' pet projects."
If Mr. Bush is overridden, the measure would give a green light to projects in virtually every state.
The authorizations include:
control projects across the country.
The Congressional Budget office says the bill includes projects that, if fully funded, would cost $11.2 billion over the next four years and $12 billion in the decade after that. The bill also calls
for increased oversight of the Corps, requiring an outside review of water construction projects.
Previous Bush vetoes include two of bills allowing expanded federal research using embryonic stem cells, and a spending bill that would have required troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Last month, Mr. Bush vetoed a major expansion of a children's health insurance program, also over objections from some Republicans. But he has far more partisan unity on that issue than on the water projects bill.